CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Europe is closed for business when it
comes to biotechnology, and its position will not change in the near future, an
English farmer said at the recent International Biotechnology Symposium.
Paul Temple, a third-generation tenant farmer from
Driffield, East Yorkshire, England, who planted biotech crops for three years
before the EU ruled against the practice, spoke of the frustration “because from
a distance the biotech business looks closed.”
“Most farmers have actually never seen (genetically
modified) crops in the field in Europe. Most farmers don’t even consider growing
GM crops because we’re not likely to grow them. It isn’t part of our equation,
so it looks closed,” he said.
Temple said EU farmers are unaware of the global acceptance
of biotech crops and don’t know of the amount of investments made in research
“There is no government investment in programs on GM crops
in Europe. There isn’t any government R and D that’s going to take this onto
European fields,” he said.
“It backs up this feeling that Europe is anti-science, so
we’re seeing major companies now walking out of Europe. BASF shut their trial
facilities down, and recently we heard that Monsanto was not going to register
those traits. These are really negative symbols.
“Farmers are as misinformed as the public. We live in the
age of sound bites and Twitter, which is very useful for bits of information,
but the kind of complicated background information that you need on this subject
is sadly missing.”
Most European consumers, politicians and farmers are unaware
of the need for protein imports.
“We are major importers. You often hear farmers saying, ‘Why
don’t we grow them ourselves?’ Well, we can’t,” Temple said. “We might grow
about 3 million tons of vegetable protein, but we import in excess of 30 million
“We are hugely dependent on imports, the majority of which
is GM, and it’s an act of hypocrisy that as farmers we see products coming in,
but we aren’t allowed the opportunity or the choice of growing them.
“The import authorization is complex, and it’s political.
The real risk for me as a European is that we end up with an uncompetitive
livestock sector. We are dependent on protein trade, and if we upset the trade,
we run the risk of damaging our livestock sector.”
Labeling is a contentious issue in Europe, and there has
been a movement in the U.S., including legislation proposed in Illinois, to
label GM-derived products.
“I tend to think that if you began to label it, some people
wouldn’t understand. Retailers in the United Kingdom have dropped the GM-free
feed requirements,” Temple said.
“We have identity-preserved, GM-free soya, but it’s
significantly more expensive. The choice exists for the consumer in organic
form, but we haven’t seen the public migrating to it. The public doesn’t really
The biotech crops problem in the EU boils down to politics,
according to Temple.
“Spain has adopted the use of GM crops. It’s had them for 10
years. It sorted out its supply chain and hasn’t had any problems,” he
“France was doing exactly the same until (then-President
Nicolas) Sarkozy as an act of politics banned (GM crops) from cultivation.
Despite the fact that the court ruled this ban illegal, the moratorium was held,
and the currently president has reinforced his desire to maintain the ban.
That’s the kind of negative news we have within Europe.
“Romania before it joined Europe was growing GM soya and
exporting soya, but on joining the EU, it couldn’t grow it and now
The Directorate General for Health and Consumer Affairs of
the European Commission overseas the GM portfolio.
“Every EU country provides a commissioner and sadly are not
proving strong enough to make any form of leadership through this whole
process,” Temple said.
Despite the commission’s stand, food safety never has been
“We have a European Food Standards Agency, and often its
advice is ignored when it’s subjected to the political process,” Temple
He said there sadly is no hope for a change in the near
“We are noticing language changing with our politicians
where there is support given strongly within the UK, but it is getting rid of
the problems in Europe that will be the problem,” he said.
“We are seeing retailers dropping a visible opposition, but
they’re not taking a visible profile of the necessity and possibilities if
biotech is available.
“EU will remain import dependant. We are seeing limited
trials of GM crops in field situations now. There are wheat trials in the UK.
But the cost of policing the trials is actually more than the trial itself, so
it has a long way to go.”
Despite the EU stance, biotech crops are recognized as being
potentially vital for food security and sustainable intensification, and
world-class science continues to be conducted in laboratories across Europe.
“The problem at the moment I don’t see how it will get out
of the laboratories and into the fields. Politics is our pipeline blockage,”
“Farming constantly needs new science to harness landscapes,
new science to deal with and mitigate climate change and the volatility that
we’re seeing and new genetics for progress. Farming needs new business models
that adapt the technology.”
He said young farmers will need to do things “very
differently from the way I’ve been able to do them and the way my parents were
able to do them — the challenges they face will be far greater than I could ever
Temple defined food security as global production and trade.
“Biotechnology that I’ve seen on my own farm offers the
potential to solve problems, and it was with great frustration that after three
years of growing it I had to stop because it was solving problems,” he said.
“Europe simply fails to offer farmers choice.”